Gourmand sensations provide plenty of inspiration for perfumers. Witness the savory darkness of truffles in Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, the caramelized popcorn note in Miss Dior Chérie and the milk chocolate notes in Elixir des Merveilles, the recent Hermès release. Likewise, chefs are taking an inspiration from perfumery. The restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain makes desserts that imitate the fragrance of famous perfumes. To be honest, the first time I read about the Gucci Envy scented dessert, the idea sounded outlandish. Yet I recently found myself staring at a package of chicken when a whiff of Serge Lutens’s Arabie which I wore that day inspired me to experiment a bit. Why not take the spicy-fruity idea of Arabie and twist it around a roasted chicken dish? …
Serge Lutens’s Arabie is a rather distinctive woody oriental, a rich and heavy composition of spices like clove, cardamom, cumin and nutmeg dusted over sweet jammy fruit. Supported by a resinous woody base, Arabie is delicately accented with the vanillic note of tonka bean. It is reminiscent simultaneously of a savory spice mélange and a honeyed Middle Eastern dessert. I decided to select a few dominant notes for my chicken Arabie: cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. To imitate the warmth of balsamic notes and the citrusy sweetness of Arabie, I chose orange juice and honey as the basis of the liquid marinade.
Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Submerge chicken in the liquid and refrigerate for at least an hour, or even overnight. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before you are planning to make dinner. Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Remove chicken from the marinade and arrange in a foil lined pan. Arrange the fruit from the marinade underneath the meat. Smear lightly with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and wrap the foil over the entire arrangement. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the juices run clear. Remove the foil cover, glaze with the honey-lemon-cardamom mixture and finish in the broiler for a few minutes. The idea is to have the surface brown lightly, without letting it burn. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest while you set the table.
The flavor of the roasted chicken is rather complex, with the citrusy and honeyed nuances playing up the sweet richness of spices. Although vanilla might be seem like an unusual addition, it subtly rounds out the balsamic and savory notes, and much like it tends to do in perfumery, it creates a smooth and voluptuous sensation. The sizzling pungency of garlic cuts beautifully through the sweet and spicy notes. White rice and green salad provide perfect accompaniments to chicken Arabie. My dinner party guests pronounced it to be “exotic,” “reminiscent of Moroccan cuisine.” On another occasion, I substituted star anise for nutmeg, which resulted in a flavor that was likewise appealing—sweet, crisp and floral.
Chicken Arabie (Chicken Marinated with Apricots and Spices) Recipe
2 skinless chicken breasts
½ cup orange juice
½ mixed dried fruit—apricots, dates, golden raisins
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or substitute 2-3 pieces of star anise)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 smashed garlic cloves
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste
½ tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of olive oil
½ tablespoon of lemon juice (or balsamic vinegar, if you prefer a darker glaze)
a pinch of cardamom
For reference: Serge Lutens Arabie contains notes of cardamom, basil, bay leaves, mandarin, cardamom, clove, cumin, nutmeg, cedarwood, dried figs, dates, myrrh, sandalwood, labdanum, benzoin, tonka bean. Perhaps, marinating the whole chicken and then roasting it over wood chips might produce another interesting variation.
Photo © Bois de Jasmin. My star anise variation of Chicken Arabie finished with balsamic vinegar glaze.